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May 4, 2024

Dr. John Chan awarded Medal for Research Excellence

For over 30 years, Dr. John Chan has explored how diabetes, hypertension, and kidney function interact at the molecular level. Informing the development of targeted treatments motivates this quest; along the way, and through his extensive activities as a teacher, mentor, leader, researcher, and research committee member, he has helped foster international understanding of the pathology and systemic factors of kidney disease.

Achievements like these are the reason why The Kidney Foundation of Canada recognizes Dr. Chan, Chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology and Nephrology at the Research Centre of the Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal and a Professor of Medicine at the university, as the 2024 Medalist for Research Excellence. The Medal is awarded annually to a Canadian resident recognized nationally or internationally for career accomplishment in kidney research.

The Kidney Foundation of Canada is pleased to present the 2024 Medal for Research Excellence to Dr. Chan says Leanne Stalker, National Director of Research. “Dr Chan has been a career scientist, committing himself to understanding the molecular underpinnings of kidney disease. As a fundamental scientist, his work has been key in creating building blocks of knowledge that have changed our state of understanding of the disease as a whole and reminds us that fundamental science is a requirement to move the needle forward at all stages of kidney research.”

Personal and professional experiences both played a role in Dr. Chan's decision to put his extensive training in molecular endocrinology to use in nephrology. Kidney disease was a factor in the sudden and early death of his sister-in-law. The tragic event brought recognition of the seriousness of the disease.

Several years later, in 1989, came the first of many professional opportunities when Dr. Chan was invited to take over a lab at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre in Montreal to pursue independent research. The Dean of Medicine at the Université de Montréal had made him the offer, but it came with a caveat: "He told me I needed to integrate my expertise in molecular endocrinology with his interest in nephrology."

A career high point came during 2000-2010 when Dr. Chan and his team defined the physiological role of the kidney renin-angiotensin system and the relationship between oxidative stress and diabetic kidney disease. "I think we proved the point that the kidney renin-angiotensin system is crucial for the normal physiology of the kidney," he says. "If you over-activate the system, you cause kidney injury and the progression of diabetes."

Currently, Dr. Chan and his colleagues are exploring how a protein called sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) affects the parts of the kidney involved in absorbing nutrients and removing waste from blood. Over-activation of SGLT2 by the kidney renin-angiotensin system leads to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), a condition that can rapidly become serious.

SGLT2 inhibitors, drugs which act on these proteins, represent a new class of medications being used in kidney disease. This again highlights the connection between the importance of understanding the fundamental aspects of kidney function, and the formulation of new treatment options for patients.

His collegiality has fostered the careers and research of many others, say his award nominators. At his Montreal lab, Dr. Chan has supervised more than 20 PhD students; one of his former students is now a professor at the same university and has worked side-by-side with him for 26 years. Two former post-doc fellows supervised by Dr. Chan have also pursued careers involving kidney research: one is now the professor at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan and another one is the Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at Saint-Louis University, USA.

In addition, he has authored hundreds of peer-reviewed articles and research abstracts that have appeared in respected international journals. He frequently speaks about his research findings.

Dr. Chan also advocates and supports basic science research in nephrology through regular participation at national and international meetings, involvement in the annual ASN Kidney STARS Mentorship program, and participation on peer review committees such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Kidney Foundation's Kidney Health Scientific Committee.

What fuels the determination behind this impressive body of work? Three words: "I love research,” he says.

The Foundation's recognition of his work is a most delightful surprise, Dr. Chan adds. He notes that by recognizing the career of a researcher, this year's award also highlights the contributions of basic science to finding answers about kidney disease.

"I'm very humbled, and appreciative," he says.

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